Foster Youth Policy Group Urges Opposition on Family First Act

Earlier this week, in an op-ed published by The Chronicle, FosterClub CEO Celeste Bodner described a letter endorsing the Family First Prevention Services Act that had been signed by hundreds of foster youth and alumni of foster care and shared with Senate leadership.

YSI-MB-PageBut not all current or former foster youth support the proposed legislation, which sailed through the House this summer and has stalled in the Senate due to holds placed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Jon Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)

The California Youth Connection, a policy group led by current and former foster youth, wrote directly to Sen. Barbara Boxer, urging her to continue opposing Family First unless it is amended.

From the letter, signed by the organization’s youth legislative committee and policy director:

California Youth Connection (CYC) has taken an OPPOSE UNLESS AMENDED position on H.R. 5456, also known as the Family First Prevention Services Act, which would set an ineffective precedent for prevention services, threaten federal eligibility for countless youth, and eliminate a crucial housing resource for California foster youth on the cusp of transitioning to adulthood.

Though we agree in concept with this legislation’s stated aims – namely, limiting the reliance on congregate care facilities and ensuring families remain whole without unnecessary entrance into the system – we are nevertheless troubled by the unintended consequences it would create.

CYC, who joins several California membership groups in opposing Family First, specifies three concerns it has about the bill:

  1. The array of prevention services are too narrow, and the bill offers “no meaningful support” for relatives who might take children in while said prevention services are in progress.
  2. The risk of youth losing potential IV-E eligibility for foster care in the event that prevention services fail. As Youth Services Insider reported last week, there is general consensus that this potential unintended consequence needs to be addressed.
  3. On a local level, the fact that the bill’s restrictions on congregate care would eliminate funding for Transitional Housing Placement Program (THPP), an intensive transitional living program for 16- to 18-year-olds that has been funded as a congregate care setting with federal support for years.

There are fewer than 50 THPP placements in the state, as counties have gravitated more to a variation of the program aimed at youth who elect to stay in care between ages 18 and 21.

For the timing and political reasons we described in a column last week, there will be no window for amending this bill until after it is passed. Assurances that issues with the bill can be worked out with follow-up legislation and administrative rules have not persuaded its critics.

Our guess is that CYC’s second concern, about IV-E eligibility, would get addressed after the fact, with some hold-harmless language that protected youth from losing eligibility as a consequence of failed IV-E prevention services.

The first concern, about the prevention services being too narrow, is a non-starter as far as this bill goes. Early legislative proposals on prevention by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) included a much wider array of services, including help with housing.

Family First was the negotiation between both parties to move a bill with limited costs. So there might be legislation someday that includes more prevention-oriented services, but it won’t be this one.

THPP and its older-youth offspring, THP-Plus Foster Care, are clearly cherished options by youth and practitioners alike in the California child welfare system. The older youth version is safe; it will not be subject to limitations from Family First. YSI wonders whether there isn’t another way to establish federal funding for the much-smaller THPP, which really is as much an independent living program as it is a congregate one.

CYC is a youth-led organization composed of current and former foster youth who seek to empower one another and their communities while acting as advocates in transforming the foster care system through legislative, policy, and practice change.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at